Today I'm talking with Fiction/Mystery author Joyce T. Strand. Joyce has written two novels in her Jillian Hillcrest Mystery Series, On Message, and her latest novel, Open Meetings. Much like her main character, Jillian, Joyce served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she says that in that time, she never actually encountered a murder. You can find out more about Joyce, her book, and how to connect with her at the end of this interview.
Joyce T. Strand
Tell us a little about yourself
I love to eat – particularly Italian pastas, with penne Bolognese being my favorite –accompanied by California red wine – preferably Cabernet sauvignon. I really enjoy Broadway musicals – tempered by the classics (Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven – oh, and Copland and Gershwin). My husband of 40 years and I reared a boy and a girl – now adults with their own careers – 2 dogs, and innumerable cats. My contribution to our livelihood stemmed from a career of more than 25 years as a Public Relations manager at several high tech and biotech companies in Silicon Valley. I am educated with a BA in Political Science and PhD in International Relations.
Briefly describe the novels you have written and the genre that you write in.
I like and read mysteries, so I chose that genre. I also appreciate familiar characters, so I decided to write a series of mysteries with the same protagonist in a known setting: PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest solves Silicon Valley mysteries inspired by real California cases.
The first in the series is: ON MESSAGE – The arrival of a strange package followed by a call from a homicide detective and murder interrupt Jillian’s activities promoting her biotech company. Inspired by a case in San Diego of the murder of a former biotech executive.
The second in the series, recently released, is: OPEN MEETINGS – Jillian is having lunch with a reporter colleague when a woman enters and begs him not to print anything she’s told him because they will kill her if he does. A few days later, the reporter tells Jillian that the woman was killed in a car crash. Inspired by a case of illicit police activities in the San Francisco Bay Area.
What inspired you to write your first novel and/or become a novelist?
As you’ll recall, I said I like to eat. When I was laid off in 2008, I was unable to find a job to help defray the cost of my pasta and California red wine. My husband suggested I write mysteries, since I liked to read them so much. Fortunately I found some consulting work to help buy pasta and wine.
What made you choose to self-publish?
Impatience. To go the traditional route would have required at least another year or two before my books might be in the hands of readers. Also, the traditional publication business model seems archaic in today’s world of e-readers, social media, and Amazon.com. Bookstores are disappearing as rapidly as newspapers. Of course, there are issues associated with self-publishing. I had to learn a lot about the industry to be my own publisher. And I’ve had to invest an incredible amount of time to market my books – which is time away from writing.
When naming your characters, do you choose names at random or does each character's name have a meaning to the story?
I enjoy naming my characters. I search for names in my past – I’m originally from Pennsylvania so I appreciate Pennsylvania Dutch, i.e., German, and Indian names. I also want the main characters to have memorable names. I pour through baby naming books, check the latest popular names, and study character names in other mysteries. However, I do not give names that have a meaning to the story, although it’s a great idea.
How much does your upbringing and/or lifestyle today influence your writing?
There’s no question that my upbringing influenced my values reflected in my writing. Of course, my career and living in California highly influenced the subject matter of my mysteries. Rearing children has made me sensitive to kids. Working in corporations has taught me that corporations are run by people who make choices about whether to be ethical or not in their quest for profitability. Also, I have lived in Italy, Brazil and The Netherlands for a year each, which has helped me to view my country and my own life from different perspectives. I weave all of these influences into my writing.
How long does it usually take you to write a novel?
Depends on how actively my muse, the roadrunner, is pacing outside my window. The more he passes by, the more I write!
I write without an outline, so that means I re-write a lot. Typically it takes me 3-6 months to write a first draft. Then another 3-6 months to rewrite the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, nth drafts depending on how well I satisfy my editor.
Do you schedule your writing time or write at random times?
Eeeek! Schedule writing time?! I’m fortunate to have control of my own time. I have tremendous respect for authors who are working a day job, rearing children, and also writing. It must require strict scheduling. I am able to say to myself, “You will finish 30 pages this week.” And that seems to be enough of a goal to make me write 30 pages that week.
Which of your novels are you the most proud of, and why?
You’re asking me to choose between my two off-spring. Can’t do it. The first was a major achievement, just because I made it happen. The second was also important because I didn’t stop with the first one. When I publish the third one (FAIR DISCLOSURE) hopefully by the end of the year, maybe then I can choose which one I like the best.
If a mainstream publisher offered you a publishing contract, would you want it?
Yes. It would be a new experience! Then I could speak authoritatively about the benefits of self-publishing.
Are there any self-published authors whose books you enjoy reading?
I tend to read mysteries: Karen Cantwell, Anthony Carbis, Deb Baker, Marja McGraw – to name a few.
Murder intrudes on PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest's routine as head communications executive at a small Silicon Valley biotechnology company. She is eagerly staying on message to inform investors, the media and the community about her company and its products. When someone near to her is murdered, a determined San Francisco police inspector involves her in the investigation, convinced she is key to solving the crime. She co-operates fully only to find that solving a murder is more hazardous than writing press releases. On Message is the first in the Jillian Hillcrest mystery series. As with all the novels in this series, it was inspired by a real California case.
PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest is having lunch with a reporter colleague when a woman enters and begs him not to print anything she's told him because they will kill her if he does. A few days later, the reporter tells Jillian that the woman was killed in a car crash in his hometown. The police ruled her death an accident caused by driving under the influence of alcohol.
Although Jillian is busy promoting her Silicon Valley biotech company, the reporter draws her into an investigation of his hometown's police department, located in California north of the Napa-Sonoma wine region. Coincidentally, Jillian's neighbor Cynthia Anderson wonders about the untimely death of her policemen husband years earlier as part of the same police department. Meanwhile, Jillian's ex-husband hovers over her to reverse the "ex" status. Unfortunately, none of them anticipates the frightening events that follow.
Ebook and Paperback
Blog: Strand's Simply Tips
If you love a good mystery, you'll want to give Joyce's books a try.